Memories with President Aquino in Kansai’s lovely Ashiya region, part 2

My memories of the Kansai region of Japan involve two presidents. I was just remembering these over the weekend since I’m in Osaka for a long overdue but quick trip.

I already blogged about my memory of Osaka involving President Fidel Ramos.

My other memory of the Kansai region of Japan, involving a president of the Philippines, is about the late former President Corazon Aquino, who I had the pleasure and honor of working for in an official and unofficial capacity.

I worked for her when she was president, and I continued to do so informally even after she retired.

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President Aquino liked Japan and I accompanied her several times on her visits to Japan to act as her interpreter and all around PA. As a young girl just out of school, it was a great education and exposure.


Once, President Aquino visited Kobe as a guest of the mayor. Kobe, which is a picture-pretty hillside city, is about 30 minutes away from Osaka by train.

The mayor of Kobe was a famous lady mayor at that time — I think she was the very first lady mayor for that city.

I was living in Tokyo then, and when the visit of President Aquino was finalized, it was arranged by some people close to her that I would travel to Kansai from Tokyo to join her very private party, consisting of herself and only three other persons, including one of her daughters.


I still remember how the city of Kobe went all out to welcome President Aquino. Everyone seemed to know about her visit, and the main streets were decorated with signs welcoming her.


One of the highlights of this trip was a lunch with a local family.

The mayor had arranged for one of the most illustrious families in Kansai region to host us for lunch one day.

I lived in Japan for 20 years, including during its peak years when people used to sprinkle gold on their miso soup just for the heck of it. I got to know the very rich, famous and powerful of Japan during these two decades.

I was in my 20s, ambitious for the Philippines, and I could speak Japanese.

One of the things I liked doing was hosting lunches at one of my favorite French restaurants then in Roppongi, and inviting some of the top people of Japan of that era for discussions on everything from good governance to literature and philosophy.

Looking back at everything now, I had lots of chutzpah to be inviting these people to my luncheons when I was barely half their age.

Interestingly, everyone went, and these were lots of fun. I still have some photos from this era, with me in the middle of groups of 18 or 20 people who went on to become great people in Japan.


I met a couple of prime ministers of Japan when they were still struggling politicians. 

I still remember when former Prime Minister Naoto Kan would hold tete-a-tete sessions, serving tea out of paper cups in his low-key office.

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But, back to my story.

Prior to that lunch hosted by an illustrious family in Ashiya, which is the best place to live in Kansai, for President Aquino and her party, I’d never been in such a beautiful and elegant Japanese estate before.

Karuizawa and Gotemba have fabulous estates, for instance, but I’d never and still have never seen an estate that surpasses this estate in Ashiya — even if I’ve been to a lot.


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It was like a fairy tale.

This estate in the hills of Ashiya was large, old and exceedingly lovely. It was not the kind of place you could create overnight even if you had a fortune.

The hosts kept their own museum on the estate, and the main house was the kind you read about in old novels about Japan, with its retinue of servants and a property of one structure after another, interspersed with lovely gardens.

At the back were storage houses (kura) full of artworks.

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The table at lunch, presided over by our hosts and President Aquino, with me as a young girl sitting somewhere breathless amidst all this, was simply too beautiful for words.

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One of the most famous restaurants in Kansai catered the lunch, which was served in courses, kaiseki style.

A truly unforgettable meal, even now, in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.